The UK hospitality industry could have a targeted VAT cut by April 2014, according to the influential French leisure entrepreneur and lobbyist Jacques Borel.
Speaking at the MA250 business conference for multi-site operators the man behind the 5.5% VAT cut for the hospitality sector in France claimed that a cut could be in the UK pre-Budget report in October 2013, with implementation by 7 April 2014 — if lobbying begins now.
The VAT decrease would create between 140,000 to 320,000 jobs in the UK hospitality sector.
This prediction came as Ireland cut VAT for the tourism industries, including pubs and hotels, from 13% to 9% last week in a bid to boost jobs. It is the 22nd country in the EU to have a lower VAT rate for the hotel sector and 14th for the hospitality sector overall.
Michael Noonan, Irish minister for finance, said: "The purpose of this targeted VAT relief is to boost tourism and stimulate employment."
Fight for beer
Borel said that all sectors of the hospitality industry need to work together and start lobbying now or it will be "too late" to influence Government policy before the next general election — and argued the campaign should include lower VAT on alcohol, not just food.
"There are people who say we should not fight for beer because beer is very bad. That is a mistake.
"You must fight for beer, restaurants, pubs, you must fight for canteens. In two years, we shall see what is sellable and not sellable. But when you start you should never give up anything," he said.
"If you want to win you should not visit ministers; it is a waste of time. You have to visit the assistants to the ministers, you have to visit 10 people for each one, and convince those 10 people."
His views received backing from JD Wetherspoon chief Tim Martin who urged operators to "back Jacques". He said: "People coming into pubs to buy food are having to pay 20% VAT on fish & chips compared to nothing in the supermarket. That is the thing to target. We have been shooting the wrong fox. Jacques has got it right with VAT. Don't think in any of your organisations or companies that you know better. This is a guy who has done it in a lot of other countries."
The Publican's Morning Advertiser (PMA) group editor The PMA Team urged the industry to take action in support of the PMA's Thrive on Five campaign, which is calling for a reduction in VAT to 5% and has Borel's backing.
Charity told the MA250 meeting: "We encourage you to book a meeting with your MP and make the case for the VAT reduction. If you each do that it would make the case to more than 100 MPs. It is the sort of thing that creates a groundswell of opinion."
VAT Club campaign
Borel has created a VAT Club to campaign for lower VAT in the UK. This includes: the British Beer & Pub Association, British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers & Attractions, British Hospitality Association, Tourism Alliance and VisitBritain.
Borel is inviting four groups of operators, from hotels, restaurants, pubs and canteens, to discuss issues every month. Each group will have a nominee who will join the main VAT Club.
• The PMA has a briefing pack on the beneficial effects of lower VAT in France, introduced in July 2009. Email Ewan.Turney@wrbm.com to obtain a copy.